Something very curious has been happening at prestigious Scarsdale (NY) HS over the last couple of years. Despite having some very successful athletic programs, at least half a dozen experienced head varsity coaches have been let go.
And in all of the cases, nobody knows why. Even some of the dismissed coaches were simply told, in effect, “The school wants to go in a different direction. Thank you for your service.” And that’s about it. As one coach commented, “I’ve given a lot of years of real sweat and effort to this team as the head coach, and with just a couple of sentences, I was let go.”
You might recall that a few weeks ago we had a very probing discussion on my show about the practice of HS coaches being hired on a year-to-year basis. That’s standard operating procedure pretty much for public school coaches. There’s no tenure for HS coaches.
And as part of that discussion, we talked about when AD’s and School Boards DO decide to make changes (e.g. firings) with coaches – that is, a coach is fired or let go – that, by law — the School Board or the AD never has to reveal their reasoning or rationale for their move.
That is, they simply say it’s a “personnel matter” and that they’re not allowed to go beyond that.
“WE’RE NOT ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT IT”
We talked about how disruptive it is to fire or not renew a coach….and that maybe there should be some sort of meeting or correspondence with the parents and athletes as to explain why. But for the most part, that just doesn’t happen, merely because the AD knows there will be lots of questions from the parents and local media – -questions that the AD can’t answer.
After all, when a coach is let go – especially a head varsity coach – the ripple effect can be very, very strong within the community.
Players on the team search for answers….the parents of those kids want to know why…and even the parents of younger kids who are perhaps, at the JV or freshman level, want to know what kind of impact there will be on their children….and of course, everybody wants to know who the new coach will be, and how things are going to change.
Now, of course, if a coach has been with a HS program for a few years, and the team is not very successful in terms of its won-loss record, well, then often the coach will see for him or herself that perhaps the time has come to step down. That happens all the time.
At the other end of spectrum, we know there’s an increasing rise in varsity coaches who – although being successful – have stepped down often because of what they view as too much parental interference. Too much meddling by pushy parents. Again, this is part of the American HS sports landscape these days.
So what happens when a relatively new AD comes into a top-level public school with really good varsity teams — and suddenly a bunch of coaches are let go?
In effect, that’s been happening at Scarsdale HS in Westchester County, NY, and because no one from the school’s administration will go on the record as to why these coaches were let go, parents and their athletes don’t know what to make of what’s going on. In just two years, the AD – Ray Pappalardi — has terminated five head varsity coaches, and another one stepped down under pressure. And the vast majority of these coaches have enjoyed great success with their programs.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
Now, just to be totally objective here, there may very much indeed be strong and substantial reasons for why these coaches were terminated…but of course, under current state laws, we will never know. Ray Pappalardi, the AD at Scarsdale HS, is regarded as a top-level AD and administrator, and even though he couldn’t reveal for those coaches being dismissed, he assured me that there were real and justifiable reasons for their termination.
I asked Todd Sliss to come on the show this AM, because Todd knows better than anyone what goes on in the Scarsdale school district. He’s an award-winning sports editor and reporter for The Scarsdale Inquirer weekly newspaper covering Scarsdale and Edgemont high schools for nearly 20 years.
In going through the coaching situation at Scarsale, Todd confirmed that most of these programs had reached high levels of success, and that the coaches were experienced and viewed by other competing schools with admiration. In fact, in several cases, once each Scarsdale coach was terminated on, say, a Friday, by the following Tuesday, they had several offers to coach from competing school districts.
In short, it would be great if somebody somewhere within the school district would explain what’s going on. Todd said that the town of Scarsdale is becoming polarized as parents are taking sides on which coaches should been kept and which firings were good ones. Todd also mentioned there’s a growing sense of anxiety among the remaining Scarsdale coaches that they might be the next to be let go. And the other growing fear is how will Scarsdale be able to find new coaches to replace the ones who were just let go? I mean, who wants to go work in a school district where coaches are routinely fired?
SOME POSITIVE SUGGESTIONS
We did have some excellent calls this AM. One listener suggested that perhaps the time has come for HS coaches to form a union, not unlike the teacher’s union, in order to give some protection to coaches. Another caller said that AD’s need to provide a better form of transparency to parents in the community when a coaching change is made.
And another caller pointed out that, chances are, most of these changes in Scarsdale probably have some sort of connection to parental interference with the AD or school administration about the coach – in spite of the coach’s teams doing well.
Unfortunately, that last observation probably comes with a great deal of truth to it. Parents these days just feel entitled to complain to the AD if their kid isn’t getting enough playing time. Regardless of whether the team is winning or losing, if enough parents complain to the AD about the coach, then that can eventually accumulate enough weight for the AD to fire the coach.
It wasn’t always this way. But as one caller noted today, it’s as if parents are more than ever determined to interfere. It’s probably the number one reason why so many excellent HS varsity coaches leave the public schools and join with travel teams where they can’t be fired.